Keyboard Karma

– Or…the problem with perfume bloggers…

The day, the day, the wonderful day arrived when The Perfume Magazine hit the pixels and went live last Saturday, and legions of perfumoholics – and perfumoholic bloggers – dropped all weekend plans to read it.

Well, I did. In so doing, I came across an op-ed by Raymond Matts entitled ‘Perfume Bloggers – You Have To Love Them!’

If you haven’t read it already, please do.

Now, op-eds are supposed to be provocative. But this one was a bit more than that…this one pushed several buttons (to state it politely), and I stewed for a few days wondering whether I should look the writer up and respond. On the one hand, it was rather nice to be noticed as a group. But on another level, something rubbed this cat’s fur in all the wrong directions.

I’d be damned if I were intimidated! So I wrote him back as follows:

Raymond, congratulations on becoming a commenter/contributor for The Perfume Magazine (something many of us are thoroughly stoked about), and thank you for your commentary about perfume bloggers! It’s always nice to know that someone besides perfumers and other perfume bloggers acknowledges our existence.
However, as a perfume blogger myself, I feel compelled to comment back to you. There are, I agree, far too many bloggers too entrenched in the pyramid mindset, determined to fit their descriptions of perfumes into them if it kills them – or their writing skills! I also wholeheartedly agree with your statement that there’s far too many perfumes and not nearly enough imagination – mostly!
Where I do take umbrage with your commentary is where you mention that you want to read what we smell – in other words, you want the perfume blogger to communicate that sense of transport only a perfume can give you. With all due respect, there are those among us who try very hard to do just that – and as I’m sure you know, this is a writing challenge of no small order! When I became a perfume blogger, I realized that I could never do what so many of the most distinguished among them do so well – take a perfume apart by the seams, so to say.
Instead, I attempt within that constricting corset of verbiage to convey a sense of the genie in the bottle – in other words, the story the perfumer is seeking to tell – to the best of my abilities to communicate what is essentially a non-verbal art form.
Isn’t that what you say is lacking in the perfume blogosphere?
Tarleisio of Scent Less Sensibilities

Lo and behold, a few hours later, this ticked into my inbox:

Thank you for your email. Please don’t take umbrage with the commentary. It really was meant to get blogger’s thinking about what they write. Writing about liquid emotion, something that is not tangible is extremely difficult. It is one of the hardest aspects of what I do. There is a lot to our industry behind the scenes that many do not know about and we get upset at times reading the nasty remarks from those trying to feel self-important.

A good blogger will not be offended and instead will agree with me that there are many who bring down the image of bloggers and the good they can do. I’m equally as harsh with magazines and their rote way of writing.
I’ve struggled in this industry to bring newness and have lost much because I’m one of the few holding on to bringing signature. I’m labeled too creative and this is a bad thing. If we are to become better at what we do.. then criticism of all kinds is and should be welcomed. Only, and I stress “only” when there is substance and knowledge from the source. There is way too much second and third hand information being regurgitated. This I don’t appreciate!
Sadly, I can tell you that many perfumers today do not have a story with their creations. Many fragrances even in the niche market are not really creative in structure and character. The “newness” is more in the story than the actual creation of what we smell. Many fragrances don’t have a story, and if they do they are contrived.
None of this is directed towards you, I merely am sharing some of my thoughts. For the record, as I was labeled a “Pompous Ass” by one blogger for the commentary… I can only say, I’m not a writer nor do I pretend to be. My piece was to get those who critique to not always chastise our creations. In many instances the fragrance we do are not what we want to either. It is the reason I will launch my own line. Trust me, many people will not like as it will rid a structure of heaviness and notes overused in our industry.
I can be honest in saying I don’t like many of the fragrances on the market. I find them old and antiquated and lacking in signature and substance. I find them offensive and invading my personal space to enjoy. However, I can appreciate at times the artistic talent and that someone out there loves the style. For this reason I do not write or critique fragrances, yet I’ve every right to as I understand formulas, balance, strength and character.
My real point was to have knowledge before one critiques… and make one dream.

See, if he had only said so much in the op-ed….and said it quite so well! Since we had now established a dialogue, and since I’m that kind of blithering idiot Joan of Arc, back I waded into the fray, and in half an hour, no kidding, I knocked out…

I’m very pleased to meet you and even happier you took the time and the trouble to write me back so quickly – so thank you for that, too! Dialogue is a wonderful thing – for one, it gets people talking, exchanging opinions and information – and if it’s done with mutual respect and consideration, how can that possibly be bad?
I’ve worked in the media industry myself (although from a different perspective as an art director), so I know all about the uninspired and regurgitated PR that gets hurled around and passed off for original copy. Too often it’s heavily prompted by the big advertisers, and simply becomes covert ad copy that most readers will never even realize, alas.
With bloggers, however, the scenario is rather different. As bloggers, we are always, before anything else, opinionators in the sense that we’re shilling our opinions, exhibiting our writing skills or lack thereof and our ability to critique an art form that might just be the hardest of all to critique – nothing is more subjective than our sense of smell, simply for bypassing our abilities to articulate and head straight for the jugular of our emotions and memories in our amygdalas.
I agree with you completely that there is an appalling lack of vision in perfume today – which is to say, most mainstream perfumes and even a few hotly touted niche lines. Reformulations and target demographics have all but killed ‘perfume’…to an extent where I can hardly take any new mainstream releases seriously any more – no genies lurk in those bottles, waiting to come out and share their stories, and very, very few perfumers are willing to even dare tell them – although there are definite exceptions to that rule. You wonder what would have happened to the Ernest Daltroffs, the Jacques Guerlains, the Edmund Roudnitskas, the Jean Carles and Guy Roberts of the world if there were around today – creating to marketing briefs aimed only at the 15-25 age demographic…It makes me sad, but on the other hand, we still have those exceptions – people who believe in what they do, who believe in their customers, who have that vision, that fire and that inspiration where the exceptional can happen. That could be you and your creative vision, too!
Since becoming a perfume blogger myself, I’ve stuck my nose in an awful lot of…awful! Uninspired, poorly constructed, contrived messes without one remarkable idea or inspiration. But I’ve also had my nose blown to smithereens by the kind of originality, creativity and vision that does give me a little hope for the future – a future I look forward to following and exploring further. I can only hope I’m able to find the words to do them justice – and even if I don’t always feel I succeed, it’s not for lack of care or application. I wish this applied to the perfume blogging community as a whole, but you and I know too well – that’s not the case!
Anyone can write anything – right or wrong, with knowledge and insight or without – on a blog and pass it off as something other than it is – opinion. Once, I tried to pass off my opinions as nothing more or less – only to discover that there were stories that wanted to be told, genies that waited in those bottles and vials, dreams that wanted to manifest. As time went on, my tastes evolved and my horizons expanded, the storyteller I’ve always been overran the opinionator, which is the only way I’m able to enjoy the process of what I do – to find those bottled dreams and breathe them alive – first for myself and by extension for my readers.

OK. Here’s the postulate he claimed: That most perfume bloggers have an appalling lack of imagination – no surprise, given that so many releases are so uninspiring – and try to impale their prose down upon that often obsolete architectural perfume construct called …a scent pyramid. They also more or less sit at their keyboards armed with their rapier words ready to tear apart anything that isn’t up to some impossible standards of perfection – or torn to shreds on that infamous scent pyramid.

Gosh. I’ve so been reading all the wrong blogs – because I don’t read any blogs that do! Or if I do, it’s never for long…snark for its own sake is so off-putting. Once upon a time, I was so down on my luck that reading perfume blogs was the only perfume I could afford apart from Dove Body Cream. (No joke!) When I think back on that incredible mass of talent that taught me so much – Helg of PerfumeShrine, Carmencanada of Grain de Musc, the gorgeous gals of the Perfume Posse, to name but three Major Inspirations – all I could do was to sit back, enjoy that fragrant prose and dream impossible dreams of the day I got to smell all those wonders. If that’s not a manifestation of imagination, I don’t know what is.

Here’s what I believe, heart, nose, head and soul: Anyone can learn to write about anything at all in a coherent, readable manner – even those who choose that notoriously tough subject of perfume. Some of those who do will be more…entertaining, evocative, provocative or readable than others, but that applies to anything on the NY Times bestseller list – or the blogosphere. Have soapbox. Will foam at keyboard.

Talent is talent – some writers cultivate what they have – this applies to all the blogs I personally read, listed on the right – and some choose the easy road of snark and snide superiority to make up for their own lack thereof. Their choice. Some of us perfume bloggers are factual, and some of us are not. Some of us write about other things than perfume – some of us don’t.

But we are all of us…communicators, trying to communicate our passion for our subject matter as well as our talent, skills and our vocabularies will allow, bearing in mind that we are essentially trying to describe the indescribable…that rollercoaster ride in a bottle called…perfume, and make it possible for our readers – if we have them – to gain a sense of that perfume, of that story the perfumer was trying to tell.

In other words, precisely what the esteemed Raymond Matts is searching for in the blogosphere. He’s just been looking in all the wrong places!

What do YOU think? Do you think he has a point – or is he seriously misguided? Did that op-ed piece upset you, make you think, want to tear that guy a new one?

Or was it just a case of keyboard karma coming back to bite the bloggers? Let me know!

22 thoughts on “Keyboard Karma

  1. Good for you for writing to him. That article was a surprise. Surely he knows that the readership of the magazine is going to be purefume bloggers?

    I also don't know what blogs he's reading. Most perfume bloggers I read are mostly fans of what they write about.

    He says he is tired of most mainstream fragrances – well we are too! Most of the perfume bloggers I read are writing about niche. If he wants to educate, tell us why your perfume is different from most – we'd be happy to hear it.

    Anyway, all press is good press, right? even if everyone is talking about how disappointed they are with some new release, at least they are talking.

    As frustrated as he may be it's a huge mistake to go online with it. Any marketing pro would tell him, you don't chastise the bloggers, you do outreach.

  2. Ahh Sheila, you really are something! I didn't see Raymond Matts piece until I read this post and I'm so glad that you stood up for the blogging community.

    What on earth is this guy on? I'd be interested to know which blogs he has been reading because, like you say, none of the ones we read are lacking in imagination. I can think of so many that are full of imaginative, thought provoking prose and don't in any way mislead the consumers.

    I always include a scent pyramid in my posts, simply because it's a good starting point and I like to discuss whether the pyramid is a complete load of crap or not. After all, isn't the pyramid tells us what we should be smelling, it's our job to say whether there is a connection to the fragrance or not.

    Thanks so much for a thought provoking post!

  3. I read this in the Perfume Magazine too and had similar thoughts (though I felt more indifferent than you did :)) There are many bloggers who do exactly that – talk about what the scents evoke rather than the fragrance pyramid. However, I like reading both kinds of blogs, those that talk about the nitty gritties, the notes as well as those that talk about the feelings and memories and multi-sensory scent experiences. What I have stopped doing is actually relying on the description of said notes (except for natural perfume)- because most often that not, the notes on ad copy reveal almost nothing about the perfume especially whether I will like the perfume (so I think the problem is more with the ad copy than said bloggers no?)…

    I am in a rambling sort of mood today, so I could go on and on..but won't (or might later..:))

  4. I indeed saw his article, rolled my eyes, and moved on. Honestly, I have no idea who he is, and anyone who publicly claims to have been labeled as “too creative” for the industry, well, it's no wonder. 🙂

  5. I'm sorry, but I simply cannot get past how poor that dude's grammar is, and from someone “published.” Everyone makes mistakes, but his were so egregious they prevented me from seeing any value there may have been in his points.

  6. Oh Sheila, you're so young and impressionable! ;))

    I enjoyed reading your e-mail exchange and I agree with everything you said (and with most points made by the commenters above). But my reaction was more along the line with Carrie's.

    There is a phrase in my native language that, loosely translated, says: When on the street you hear “Hey you, fool!” there is no reason for you to turn…

    I just didn't turn 😉

  7. Sheila, one more reason why I love you. And one more reason why I love our community.

    I read it and like Carrie, rolled my eyes.

    Who is he talking about? All the blogs I read are written by passionate people, talented people and really smart people. I like to read perfume blogs because each person has their personality. Some of us are more emotional, others more technical. Every blog that I read has personality!

  8. Although it was hard to understand what he was saying due to his writing, I understood what Raymond was trying to say. I just didn't agree with him. I am beyond thrilled that you published your conversation with him. You are a champion, Sheila – thank you for standing up for yourself and the perfume bloggers who are the complete antithesis of what Raymond kvetched about.

    I am proud to know the bloggers I know, and I will always recommend your blogs to those who desire to learn more about fragrance – and understand the magic of fragrance as well. I admire each and every one of you, and aspire to be at your collective level one day.

    I just hope that others don't blow off The Perfume Magazine because of this one article. The rest of us tried very hard to write entertaining and grammatically correct articles! Hee! =)

  9. “Have soapbox. Will foam at keyboard.”

    LOL, I love it.

    I did read this editorial; in fact, it was the very first thing I read after perusing all of the articles—but it only offended me for a moment.

    I might be a tad delusional, but after reading it twice through, I thought, “Oh, he's not talking about me or anyone I know.” And then I forgot about it! LOL, I guess I have a big head for myself, and my beloved fellow bloggers 😉

    However, I am glad that you wrote to him, and that you shared this dialogue with all of us; I think it adds clarity to what he wanted to sat, and backs up my “read” of his original article!

    Narcissist, checking out 😉

  10. I thought his post was going to provoke a lot of discussion, but honestly, I didn't feel personally called out.
    And I agree with Kjanicki, I don't seem to read the blogs he talks about. Are there really blogs like that out there? Because they don't seem to be part of the community we inhabit.

  11. Thank you for taking it upon you to write to him and engage him in a dialogue. That is always a good thing.
    Personally, I love how Undina put it: if someone calls out “Hey, Fool!” you don't have to turn around, I didn't turn either. I'm sure he hasn't read any of our blogs. 🙂

  12. I don't know who this person is, and frankly – and I'm a good reader – I don't really know what his point is – apart from being miffed about something.

    What it boils down to for me is this sentence from his reply to you: “A good blogger will not be offended and instead will agree with me that …”

    I don't appreciate this kind of reasoning which essentially says: If you don't agree with me, then you are not a good blogger. Well, see if anyone cares. I don't. I'm perfectly able to figure out what I want to read and why and I don't need him or anyone else to critique that. I read about perfume for my pleasure. His commentary is way to meta-something-or-other for my taste.

    Good thing that you took the time to respond to him in your usual well-articulated manner 🙂

  13. Sister, I'm thrilled you have opened up this dialogue!

    I read Mr. Matts' article and it shocked me – not because of his blanket opinion of bloggers (heard it 1000 times before), but because TPM was promoted by bloggers, who then got sh*t on.

    His article stinks of that thick perfume that makes many perfume bloggers gag – eau de snob.

    Once upon a time, people needed lots of money indulge in little luxuries. How things have changed!

    Luxury, class, refinement – those concepts, and the goods that exemplify them, have been made available to everyday folks for years. I can wear the same perfumes that royals once wore. I can wear the same perfumes royals wear now AND I can blog about them. So can you, and millions more.

    If Mr. Matts doesn't want bloggers to talk about perfume, then why publish a magazine on the internet? Why promote it within the perfume community?

    His claim that bloggers could mislead consumers is invalid.
    Mr. Matts should direct that claim towards unknowledgable sales assistants and writers of perfume ad copy. They continually mislead consumers!

    It was recently reported the clothing company Ambercrombie & Fitch asked cast members of Jersey Shore money to cease wearing thier clothing as they believe the cast is tarnishing the A&F image. This is a perfect example of this snobbery bullsh*t.
    If you don't people to wear your clothes, don't make them available in malls and on the internet.

    The same rule applies to TPM.
    If you don't want bloggers to talk about perfume, don't engage them.

    That's my “two cents”. 😉

  14. On the subject- I just read an article in the most recent issue of V Magazine (issue 73) written by Lady Gaga, of all people. In it, she criticizes a certain fashion critic who she believes harshly dismissed the hard work of designers without giving reasons. I understood Lady Gaga's points, which she laid out beautifully and with wit and intelligence. It occurred to me that not everyone can write as well as she, but if they did, then Raymond Matts probably wouldn't be coming under fire nearly as much. Lady Gaga makes it clear that many small-time critics at home on their laptops can blog with much more effectiveness and originality than some of the critics that believe in outmoded hierarchies, it just takes a strong point of view and the intelligence (and this is key) to carry the vision to fruition. Critics aspire to have original things to say, and while some may argue that there's nothing new under the sun, there are whole generations of people (of every age) who are experiencing things for the first time and have nothing but enthusiasm and thirst for knowledge. That is a big part of what drives me to write. I don't plan on raining on anyone's parade, but if somebody should happen to plan their parade for a day with a 50% chance of rain– well, shit happens.

  15. ” I don't plan on raining on anyone's parade, but if somebody should happen to plan their parade for a day with a 50% chance of rain– well, shit happens.”

    Carrie, this is incredible! Permission to quote this with credit given to you?

  16. I was most upset – and fatally distracted – by his spelling of “bloggers” (the plural of “blogger”) with an apostrophe.

    Otherwise, I am also not sure what blogs he is reading, for there are many great “verbal genie conjurers” out there, it seems to me.

  17. Thanks for posting this Sheila. I just linked to Another Perfume Blog's piece on my “weekly roundup” and just now saw this.

    Unfortunately, his original piece and this response:

    “I've struggled in this industry to bring newness and have lost much because I'm one of the few holding on to bringing signature” (cry me a river dude, and no you are not the only one of a few!)

    show a great deal of arrogance and little understanding as to what the majority of us bloggers do and what we write about.

  18. I can't imagine who this guy must be talking about. Most of the bloggers I read are writers, not promoters. The “pyramid” is a sales tool, imo, which exists to let someone know what's in a perfume they're thinking of buying, not much more, is it flowers or is it lime? So I can only conclude that whatever blogs he's reading aren't the ones I've been reading, every day, for several years.

    And, yeah, that “too creative” thing cracked me up too.

  19. My fellow fumeheads…may I say I am quite blown away by the perspicacity of your responses! 😉 I'd love to reply to each and every one of you, but instead, I'll select a few things that stuck…

    I personally think that scent pyramids can only give you a foggy idea of what it is you're smelling – not a few evolve in a spiral, in a circle, in anything but…a pyramidal shape.

    Second…about that 'when someone shouts YOU FOOL'…this is very true, but if someone didn't say SOMETHING, this dude might think he'd gotten away scot-free. Over my dead, decaying DIors! I'm not going to take such unsubstantiated claims standing up, I'm going to get right back in his face and say – prove your point! As I don't think he has, really!

    Then again, he's too creative for most of us poor, illiterate bloggers, trying to make a scent come alive for our few challenged readers…(NOT!!!)

    I'm still dying to know what blogs he's been reading, though – because as we all of know – it's none we've ever heard of! 😀

  20. I read TPM briefly late last week, and if I hadn't been waaaay too busy with My Real Life (which, by the way, smells great. Smoked pork barbecue at football game, anyone? Fall leaves? Baby calf? Dew and woodsmoke? Amusement park?), I'd have fired a rocket or two up his royal creative butt.

    Yeah, I was that annoyed.

    So I thank you from the bottom of my trying-to-feel-important heart. Mwah.

  21. It occurred to me later… None of us knew who this guy was two weeks ago… And now we do.

    Back when I was a PR/Advertising student (during my first time round at university), they hammered into us the idea that no publicity is bad publicity— part of me wonders if the guy wrote the piece just to ruffle feathers and get his name out???

    Paranoid? Maybe. 🙂

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